Friday, May 06, 2011

Bin Laden and human rights

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has called for a full disclosure of the facts surrounding the killing of Bin Laden to determine legality of the operation. This call has been echoed by both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

This underlines an important principle: human rights are fundamental and even people like Bin Laden should expect due process.

No doubt Bin Laden was a thoroughly nasty character who has claimed responsibility for the death of thousands, I have no sympathy for either his cause or his methods, but basic principles of justice need to be respected. Ideally, the team should have attempted to capture Bin Laden alive and then put him on trial. If he was killed accidentally in a shootout, then it is acceptable but the assassination, which is another term for extra-judicial killing should not be condoned. This is why the UNHCR needs to investigate the circumstances of his death.

It is easy to say that terrorists, or for that matter, criminals have no rights. The question is who determines if someone is innocent or guilty? If the authorities start prejudging guilt, what starts to happen is that suspects, rather than criminals start getting punished and a suspect could be anybody: anyone could make a false complaint that so-and-so was responsible for such-and-such a crime.

In order to ensure justice is available to everybody, certain principles need to be observed at all times. William Blackstone's formulation "better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer" is what law should be based on. It is, as Soli Sorabjee, former Attorney-General of India remarked during a debate on this subject, what marks a civilised nation.


Anonymous said...

Agree with you on the point that everyone should be allowed their human rights and that allowing the authorities to define guilt without due process would only lead to strengthening fascism.

However, in Osama's case he had already established himself as a terrorist and openly advocated attacks on civilians. Apart from being reprehensible, I would say that also meant he painted a big bull's eye on himself.

Those who would espouse violence and terror to further their goals should be prepared to deal with the consequences.

The problem arises when as you correctly point out, suspects become targets. I'd say Osama was not a suspect as much as a criminal taunting "catch me if you can".

Jack Point said...

Thanks for the comment Anon.

The suspect becomes a criminal only after trial and conviction. The principle is that he must be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

It seems obvious that Bin Laden was guilty, nevertheless the principle is that there should be no exceptions, the rule must apply equally to all.

The correct thing to have done was to arrest him and bring him to trial. The objectives of the team should have been capture, not kill.

If he was killed accidentally during the melee, then it is unfortunate, but the facts need to be investigated to be certain of this.

Anonymous said...

I can't help remembering the JVP insurrection of the 80's when more innocent suspects were killed by the army, over the troublemakers. It was almost if you fit the profile of a JVP you were fair game. So all young undergrads were fair game. Do you remember how parents were scrambling to get their offspring of that age group out of the country to save them from slaughter? A large number found their way to Japan where many still live some still as undocumented illegals in an underclass and this lot also included some hard core JVPers?

Sad no one took up this cause then or now.

Jack Point said...

Quite right anon, people looked the other way.

I think we could also forget all that went on at the end of the war, if the State made a proper job of rehabilitation - they don't have the money but enough private money would have flowed in.